x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

From maiden jumpers to team UAE in one year

Women to represent UAE at world championship in Dubai this weekend. The four members of the national squad say that they fell in love with sport - at 200kph - from first tandem leap.

The UAE Female Parachuting Team practice their formations ahead of the 2012 World Parachuting Championships.
The UAE Female Parachuting Team practice their formations ahead of the 2012 World Parachuting Championships.

DUBAI // A year ago there were only three members of the women's UAE skydiving team, and their only experience was developing a 3D video on the sport as a school project.

But they and two others will drop at nearly 200kph and have only 35 seconds to perform a number of synchronised moves before they pull their chutes at the World Parachuting Championships Mondial this weekend.

Shaikha Ahmad 18, Nada Attia, 18, and Hamda Saif, 19, had caught the attention of the organisers of the UAE men's team with their enthusiasm for the sport, even before their first tandem jump.

"It was like a dream to be asked," said Ms Ahmad, an Egyptian.

Al Jalila Al Nuaimi, 23, was approached while playing for the UAE women's football team less than a year ago. She had no experience in parachuting either.

"As soon as I jumped I knew I wanted to do more of it," said the Emirati. "I'm crazy and this is why I'm doing it."

Ms Ahmad said she often wondered why she was 3,200 metres above the Palm Jumeirah.

"Once I land I want to do it again," she said. She has jumped at least 400 times and still finds it thrilling.

Radwa El Ghamry, 26, another Egyptian, is the team captain. She started skydiving when she was just 14, at a family gathering in Egypt.

"I was listening to some guy saying they were jumping from a plane with the army and there were also slots for the public," Ms El Ghamry said.

"Once I heard about it I wanted to do it. They said I was too small but I really wanted to try it."

After two jumps she finally told her mother the secret she and her father had been keeping.

Mr El Ghamry said her father had fully expected her to join the Egyptian army and have a career in parachuting.

Ms Attia, also Egyptian, said her family was surprised when she told them she wanted to jump from aeroplanes.

"They were so shocked because she is so quiet, but she challenges herself," Ms El Ghamry said.

Ms Ahmad said her family was also shocked.

"Culture-wise it's not usual. I played sports like tennis but not jumping out of planes. They were surprised with that."

The five-member team, which jumps as a quartet in rotation, has made between 400 and 500 jumps. None are professional jumpers.

"It's not like this because three of them are full-time in college and Jalila and I are working part-time," Ms El Ghamry said.

To get themselves to an international standard, the women attended an intensive, 27-day skydiving camp in the US this year.

Now they reel off the moves in numbers and letters.

"We first each visualise each position and walk it through," Ms El Ghamry said. "Then we do it on the creeps and then walk it out again and visualise it. There are lots of steps mentally and physically."

Creeps are like skateboards, and skydivers lie down on them to practise their moves as a team. In competition, nods and eye movements are the only way to communicate.

Ms Al Nuaimi downplayed the danger of the sport.

"In football you can easily break your leg or even swallow your tongue and you can die from that," she said. "Skydiving is not dangerous."

Ms El Ghamry added: "It's not like what people think. It depends on how smart you are and the risks you face."

They hope their performance attracts other women to the sport.

"Of course they should try it," Ms Al Nuaimi said. "Go crazy and come jump. They will have so much fun. Just say, 'I'm going to fly'."


eharnan@thenational.ae